In the US, one major crisis facing the public is the dying of newspapers. As the Web becomes more prevalent and more important, newspapers are struggling to figure out how to make the Internet functional as a business model, and create a website as a destination similar to what a newspaper has been for so long.
Here’s a problem, though: most newspapers’ websites are terrible. They’re ugly, difficult to navigate, and not at all places you want to visit over and over.
Thankfully, though, there are a few news sources that are light years ahead of the others in figuring out what people want, and how to give it to them. Here are five examples of how news can, and should, work on the Web. In addition to models for other news sources, these are all gorgeous sites with great news, some original and most aggregated, and are excellent destinations for anyone who reads the news online.
My personal favorite news site, the Daily Beast has a number of brilliant news features. Primarily an aggregator of news from around the Web, both newspaper sources and elsewhere, (but also featuring a number of famous, and brilliant, columnists) the Daily Beast pulls it all together in an easy-to-read and easy-to-navigate way. In addition, the Daily Beast offers a couple of unique features: The Cheat Sheet gives you a look at that day’s news, all the most important stories in one place. Then there’s the Big Fat Story, which brings together a bunch of different stories and perspectives, all about the same issue. If you’ve only got a minute, and want to find out what’s going on in the world, the Daily Beast is the perfect place.
Newser is pure aggregation of news – all it does it take stories that exist, and make them easier to find and read. It’s very image-based, with larger stories garnering larger images that make them easier to find at a glance. There are links a the top of the page to some of the day’s biggest stories and memes, currently including “Britain’s Got Talent” sensation Susan Boyle. The sources for the site are the most reputable papers from around the US and world, which means you’re getting the best information – just in a much better, and more readable, way. The lifeblood of news is images, and Newser knows that well.
“Old media” has one entrant into the ring of smart Web-news features, and it’s the New York Times. When you first visit the website, in the middle, underneath the headline, there’s a button that says “Times Extra.” Times Extra brings in content from other websites and blogs, right onto the NYT homepage. That way, if you want more information about a particular topic, but not necessarily from the Times, you can easily click around the Web from the NYT page. For a long time, news organizations have been afraid to link to each other, essentially seeing it as freely promoting competitors, but it appears that trend may be changing – to everyone’s benefit.
If blogs and newspapers had a lovechild, it would be the Huffington Post. HuffPo brings a lot of news aggregation to the mix, but is also a major source for blogs and bloggers – Robert Redford and Sean Penn are two you’ll find writing on the Huffington Post blogs. HuffPo is great with social media, too – stories can easily be shared, liked or disliked (in Digg-style), and conversation is encouraged on every story, whether originally HuffPo’s or not – many of the articles garner a huge number of comments. Every article also has a “Quick Read” that lets you read a headline, a summary sentence, and see an image – great if you need to know what’s going on, but only have a second to check the news.
Google News Timeline
The newest entrant into the news field (though Google News has been around a while), the News Timeline is a fascinating way to see what’s going on in the world. A new entrant into Google Labs, the New Timeline lays out the top stories from Google News (which aggregates news from a ton of different sources) every day. You can sort by hour or minute, or year or decade. The Timeline can also be filtered to news, videos, blogs, magazines, newspapers, Wikipedia entries, and others. It’s a great way to find out answers to the “on this day in history” questions, as well as the “on this second right now” queries.
Newspapers may still control the news right now, but reading their content is better done in any number of other places. I use all these sources regularly, and have forever left reading the poorly-designed, text-heavy, old-media style newspaper websites.
Where do you get your news?